WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department imposed a new round of sanctions on Russia on Monday, escalating its response to Russian cyberwarfare as the administration continues to warn about Russia’s potential to meddle in the United States’ coming midterm elections.
The sanctions target five Russian companies and three individuals, some of whom are accused of directly supporting Russia’s intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, in its efforts to carry out cyberattacks.
They follow sanctions that the United States imposed in April on a roster of Russian business tycoons, government officials and corporations, and are the latest example of the hot and cold approach that the Trump administration has taken in handling one of the United States’ most prominent adversaries.
“The United States is engaged in an ongoing effort to counter malicious actors working at the behest of the Russian Federation and its military and intelligence units to increase Russia’s offensive cybercapabilities,” Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said in a statement.
The sanctions come as President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign continues to face a federal investigation into improper coordination with Russia, which meddled in the 2016 election. Last year, Congress passed legislation that curtailed Trump’s power to lift sanctions on Russia on his own, tying his hands with a rare showing of overwhelmingly bipartisan defiance.
That has not stopped Trump from embracing the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Over the weekend, Trump called for Russia to be readmitted into the Group of 7 industrialized nations, despite having been kicked out for annexing Crimea in 2014.
The actions Monday were required as part of the 2017 legislation — the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act — and it was not the first time the Trump administration used such measures to penalize Russia’s nefarious actions. In March, the administration took direct action against Russian organizations accused of interfering in the U.S. election.
The Treasury Department said Monday that the moves were in response to “malign and destabilizing” activities such as the NotPetya cyberattack in Ukraine last year, intrusions into the United States’ energy grid and efforts to compromise global digital infrastructure, including routers and switches. The sanctions are also intended to scuttle Russian efforts to track underwater communications cables that transmit much of the world’s data.
Digital Security, Kvant Scientific Research Institute and Divetechnoservices were among the groups that were sanctioned. The sanctions freeze the assets of the firms and individuals, and Americans are barred from doing business with them.
“The timing of the sanctions announcement is interesting considering Trump’s recent call for a summit meeting with Putin and his call for Russia to be invited back into the G-7,” said Michael Casey, a sanctions expert at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis.
Trump has been giving mixed signals to Russia in recent days. On his way to the G-7 gathering in Canada last week, the president declared that he has been Russia’s “worst nightmare.”
However, in the next breath, he said that Russia should rejoin the alliance.
“Why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting?” Trump asked. “We should have Russia at the negotiating table.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.